Expert Group Meeting: Advancing Co-deployment Financing through the Asia-Pacific Information Superhighway in North and Central Asia
A widening digital divide and digital inequality have been persistent challenges and obstacle for the achievement of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDG) in the Asia-Pacific region. Despite overall progress made in developing broadband and ICT infrastructure in the region, the countries with special needs, such as least developed countries and landlocked developing countries, still lag far behind and fall below the region’s average with almost no improvement in the past decade. This uneven progress is aggravated by the emergence of newer technologies, such as artificial intelligence, which requires availability, quality and speed of broadband services. Unaddressed, the digital divide and inequality could cascade into inequality in other social and economic dimensions and would increasingly become harder to bridge.
North and Central Asia is no exception from this trend. According to ESCAP studies, Azerbaijan and Kazakhstan are leading the broadband infrastructure development but the rest of the sub-region has not fully benefited from digital opportunities due to limited broadband availability and affordability among other factors. The landlocked developing countries in Central Asia are particularly dependent on the ease and costs of connecting to neighboring countries. As a result, these countries experience inadequate international bandwidth and high transit cost to access international links. Strengthening ICT infrastructure connectivity is expected to significantly improve broadband access and affordability in the region.
Recognizing the strategic significance of ICT connectivity in achieving the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development in the Asia-Pacific region, the Asia-Pacific Information Superhighway (AP-IS) initiative was established to enhance the availability, resilience and affordability of broadband connectivity in the region. One of the means to expand broadband connectivity is co-deployment of fibre optic cables (FOCs) along passive infrastructure such as roads, railways, pipelines and electric powerlines. Co-deployment could save costs of infrastructure deployment by minimizing duplicated civil works and environmental impacts. Through significant cost saving opportunities, co-deployment would allow countries to scale up infrastructure networks and access more quickly and efficiently, both within and across national boundary.
In this context, the United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific (ESCAP) is implementing a project entitled “Addressing the Transboundary Dimensions of the 2030 Agenda through Regional Economic Cooperation and Integration in Asia and the Pacific”. The project aims to strengthen capacity of target countries (Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, and Mongolia) to develop relevant policies and mechanisms for infrastructure connectivity and co-deployment. During the inception meeting in October 2018, the participants from the three target countries and their neighbors (China and the Russian Federation) identified a number of key policy issues and challenges that need to be addressed to promote codeployment and inclusive and sustainable infrastructure development.
As a follow up to the project activities and in support of neighboring countries in the subregion, ESCAP in collaboration with the Ministry of Information and Communications of the Republic of Kazakhstan, will organize an Expert Group Meeting “Advancing Co-deployment Financing through the Asia-Pacific Information Superhighway in North and Central Asia” in Almaty on 31 January and 1 February 2019 with the following objectives:
(a) to raise awareness among government officials and partners on opportunities and challenges associated with infrastructure co-deployment and relevant financing modalities in the North and Central Asia subregion;
(b) to identify subregional and national initiatives or strategies which could benefit from integrating infrastructure co-deployment approach; and
(c) to develop concrete plans of action, including policy updates and capacity development, within the framework of AP-IS.